Three popular nail artists based in Seoul share their studio’s most-requested looks.
While in Seoul recently, I couldn’t stop staring at people’s nails. Everyone I met seemed more fun looks than the next. One of my friends had a floral and checkered nail art. Another had long navy acrylics with silver embellishments.
“Nail trends in Korea tend to be simpler and cuter in style rather than flashy and spectacular,” says Sunny, the owner of Sunkuku Nail Art Studio, in Seoul’s Hapjeong neighborhood. People often pick colors to match the season and decorate their nails with crystals, she adds. Although shorter nails are generally preferred, Sunny notes her clients seek out her private studio for nail extensions.
Sumi Lee, who owns SSum Art Studio in Seoul’s Gangnam area, is also known for her talon-like creations. K-pop stars like KARD’s Jiwoo and Jamie Park often stop by her studio to take their nail shapes beyond the usual choices: round or square.
One of my favorite stops of the trip had to be Unistella, though. Here, I met up with Park Eunkyung, who is at the helm of not only Korea’s nail trends but the world’s. Instagram has helped put her masterpieces on a global stage. She graced my nails with some of the top-requested looks, like watercolor and chunky glitter.
All three Seoul-based nail artists shared the top nail trends in Korea. Turns out, most are inspired by familiar things: an emoji, a shoe, a song, a beauty product, and a natural phenomenon. May these exciting nail art ideas from across the world inspire your next manicure — at home or otherwise.
Sparkle Emoji ✨
While visiting Unistella, I was introduced to a vast, new world of glitter. Park Eunkyung keeps shapes and colors on hand that I didn’t even know existed, including, to not limited to, hearts, butterflies, and stars in neon, pastels, and opals. Glitter in the shape of the sparkle emoji (aka ✨) also exists, and it’s taking over tips.
Irene Kim recently stopped by Unistella for a simple addition of sparkle to milky clear nails, as seen in the top left corner. The emoji shape can also be carefully painted on.
The top requested nail design requested in South Korea right now – especially at Unistella – is unequivocally lipstick nails. Even when I was interviewing K-pop group Everglow, members mentioned how much they love the unexpected nail shape that mirrors the beauty product.
“I think of nail shapes are just like a one’s hair length or eyebrows in a makeup look,” Park says. “With a little change in the shape of your nails, you can easily achieve a change in your entire look. It can make your hands look longer or create your own signature look.”
Liah Yoo, founder of Krave Beauty, first brought this color-shifting polish as mesmerizing as the Northern Lights to my attention. She got Aurora nails during a recent trip to Seoul after seeing them all over Instagram with the hashtag #오로라네일, which is just Aurora nails written in Hangul (the Korean alphabet). She also noticed a lot of Korean girls were wearing this type of nail art and every other nail salon in Korea had #AuroraNails as an option in their sample books. (I even saw examples at Unistella during my visit.)
A polish flecked with magnetic particles is painted on to nails. Then, a magnet wand is waved over them to shift the pigments around and achieve the Aurora borealis-like effect.
Consider this a great option for those with short nails. You can also mix-and-match colors like Lee did in the lower lefthand corner or top it with adornments like Sunny did in the top right.
The material Park always keeps in her kit no matter what comes in handy for this look: Uni-Posca Pens, which are paint markers you can get at a craft store. If you happen to have them, too, you can easily recreate this Korean nail art trend at home.
Ballet is another popular nail shape in Korea at the moment, according to Sumi Lee. Also known as coffin in America, artificial nail extensions are fashioned to be flat on the top and rounded on the sides like a pointe shoe. They are a fun base for any nail color imaginable.
Like sandals, dogs, and soup, I believe the chunkier the better. The same applies to glitter. After seeing every color of chunky glitter looks on display at Unistella, I had to have the large flecks on my nails. Turns out, it’s a rising trend in Korea. “[People] are trying to use more glitters than attaching big gems,” Park tells Allure. Glitter lasts longer because it lays flat on the nail while big gems can catch onto things.
Park whips up her own chunky glitter polishes by mixing together a custom combo of glitters with clear gel. You can check out my results in the top lefthand corner.
Park gave me a single rainbow watercolor nail, as seen in the bottom right corner, by dabbing on a special polish specifically made for translucent, inkblot-like designs. You can also layer sheer polishes to create the same effect.
*Devon’s trip to Seoul was made possible by the Korean Tourism Board and Asiana Airlines.*